Muslim for a Month

I teach Social Studies in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area at a very diverse high school. In an attempt to better understand a significant portion of the student population, I have undertaken the idea to become "Muslim for a Month"; hence the title for this blog.

Location: Fairfax County, VA, United States

Monday, November 27, 2006


To borrow a phrase from a fellow teacher: You’re Problem, Not My Problem.

I have now listened to Hamza Yusuf’s Men and Women CD three times, and have taken some time to digest its content. As previously, I really enjoyed Shaykh Hamza’s method of explaining things; his use of analogies and stories to enlighten the points he makes is particularly helpful for me. However, my mind keeps coming back to the issue of women, hijab, and the reasons for wearing them. I have no problem with women who choose to wear hijab to be modest before Allah and the general public, although at times I think that since God created us, we should not be ashamed of how we look or appear. Anyway, the point that women wear hijab to protect themselves from men and men from their own baser instincts troubles me, thus the title of this post. I feel that it is the responsibility of men to be accountable for and in charge of their feelings (base or otherwise) and their actions that stem there from, and not the responsibility of the women to cover up to shield men from temptation. Not that I am advocating people walk around naked, although that does seem the logical end to this line of thinking. My turn for an analogy: statistically people in the United States are overweight – we have numbers and health claims to back this up – yet we do not advocate closing all bakeries, fast food restaurants, or ban selling the ingredients to make cookies, simply because people lack sufficient self control to stop themselves from consuming them. (Do not get me started on the people suing McDonald’s etc – I think that is one of the most absurd things I have ever heard.) People need to take responsibility for their own actions – I believe that is one thing that separates adults from children and humans from many other species on the planet – our ability to not act on every thought that flits through our minds because we understand the difference between right and wrong. Asking women to wear hijab, or more, to assist men with their weaker nature seems to be an abdication of the men’s responsibility for their own behavior.

I do understand that men have some responsibility in this arena: to lower their eyes and not look upon someone who is not a relative or not their spouse, to work on the mutual modesty from their own side of the equation. However, I guess I just feel that the equation is not balanced; that women have been given greater responsibility in the modestly arena, and not just for their own relationship with Allah, but for the men’s benefit as well.

For an extreme take on this issue see,,3-2422621,00.html, about the Australian cleric who equated uncovered/un-hijabed women to meat left out and then eaten by cats, taken by many to be blaming women for rape.

On a separate note: Thank you to the several people who corrected my misunderstanding/misperception of women and men spending time together. In previous blog entries, I talked about finding a chaperone so that I could “hang out” in public with a male friend. I have been informed that I needn’t have taken those measures: we could have spent time together in public without concern or chaperone. Again, another example of something I would have continued to misunderstand had I not undertaken this experience – and written about it in a public forum.

As always, I reserve the right to change my mind on how I feel/think about everything in this post, as I continue to read/discuss/learn about these issues.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I apologize for not posting in a while. I have been listening to the Hamza Yusuf CD entitled "Men &Women" that I received as a gift during Ramadan (I have listened to it three times now). I am mulling over my thoughts on the subject, and want to think a little further before I put thoughts on paper, as it were. I appreciate the patience of people who wrote to me asking where I have been. It is approaching Thanksgiving holiday here, which makes school a little more hectic than usual. I hope to post my reflections this coming long weekend. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving - hope it is filled with family, friends, and no acrimony.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

“Why do you wear those earrings?”, “welcome back!”, and feeling like Paris Hilton

Let me first address the third and last part of this entry’s title. I tend to regard Paris Hilton as someone who is famous for no reason at all. She is not a movie star, or a successful singer or musician, or an inventor, or author, etc.; yet she is famous, and people read about her exploits on the internet and hear about them on television. That is kind of how I feel. I am not a movie star, or a singer or musician, or an inventor, or author, and have not done anything particularly worthy of note in my life, yet people want to meet me and talk to me and read this blog. I am honestly kind of baffled. I did not think that my experience would be so interesting to other people, and did not consider it so odd or unusual that it would garner such attention. Yet it has. I shared a meal with a group of people (a friend, and friends of hers) on Sunday, and one of the women indicated to me that several women she knows in Arizona have been reading my blog (Hello!) and were excited to learn that she had met me. That really boggled my mind – I consider myself a nice person, a good friend, an interesting individual, but not someone that people are excited to know someone has met. Additionally, it seems that I, and others like myself, have caught the attention of people the world over. Although I have gotten universally positive feedback from Muslims I have met during the past weeks, my endeavor is apparently offensive to others (see This was never my goal, and I have tried to be clear on that point, and took measures to ensure that my efforts would not be construed that way. I simply believe that the best way to learn is by doing, and what better way to try to understand someone else than to “walk a mile in their shoes”? I never believed I would garner anything remotely approaching ‘more than a surface understanding of “what it’s like” to be one of us’. And I do not consider my actions to be ‘play acting and dressing up for the cameras or the blogosphere, recounting their experiences being “just like” one of the Others’. I never felt that I was play acting, I was completely sincere in all of my efforts during the month of Ramadan; and I never sought attention for my undertaking, unless it was to explain what I was doing and why. I know that I have much, much, much still to learn, and that my month uncovered for me barely the tip of the iceberg that is Islam. Honestly, I am okay with people not liking what I did and not understanding it or my motivation either. What really made me emotional were the comments posted by two of my new friends who came to my defense. Their support is what makes me tear up, not the comments of someone who has never met me. I am sorry that I offended her, but my goal was to build understanding on my part, and I am regretful that it was not taken that way. Additionally, I am kind of glad for this occurrence, it was a refreshing change to have someone not like me! (That sounded really egotistical, but is the best way I can describe how I feel.)

On to the second part of the title: Numerous colleagues have welcomed me back, as if I had been gone on a long trip, or as if I had been a different person during the month of Ramadan. I must say this perplexes me a little bit. Just as I was completely sincere in all my efforts during the month of Ramadan (praying, fasting, etc.), I was also completely myself. While some of my behaviors changed (not hanging out with friends if they would be drinking alcohol), who I am deep down never did. Although, at least one of the “welcome back”s was because I had not attended a happy hour activity in a while, and this person was, I believe, happy to see me. I must confess, though, that this past month did change me somewhat. While I have attended happy hours with colleagues semi-regularly in the past, 99% of the time I drink ice water, and leave before anyone becomes inebriated (not my idea of a good time), I believe I will attend even fewer of them in the future. This past week we went bowling, which I enjoy doing. But for some people, the activity and friends seems simply an excuse to consume alcohol, and that does not appeal to me at all. I do not begrudge people from choosing to consume liquor, provided they are adults and do so in a responsible manner, but for that to be the raison d’etre of the event is something with which I am not at ease. I want to hang out with friends to do just that, and I do not need lubrication to do so, and would like to believe that they do not need to be drinking to hang out with me. Additionally, that evening was the first time in more than a month that I went home with clothes and hair smelling like cigarette smoke, something I had not missed during Ramadan.

After some consideration, I would probably define myself as somewhat of an agnostic. I believe in a higher power, but do not identify myself with any one faith or belief system or scripture or method of worship. However, I met a gentleman this weekend who told me a shortened version of his own journey to Islam, sparked by the question at the beginning of this blog entry. You can read the account here: I was very moved and inspired by his experience. It is wonderful that he found Islam, which filled a place in him and was a perfect fit. I have yet to find that fit, and am okay with that. While the prayers five times a day was a novel and thought provoking method of worship for me, the most attractive and enduring part of my experience was the people that I met. If being swayed into joining a religion was based solely on the community that one finds within it, I would be Muslim yesterday. The people I have been blessed to be introduced to, and the openness with which they accepted me and my attempts at understanding, and the resulting discussions about faith and religion and practice have been a very important part of my education during this experience. And one analogy that I will hark back to numerous times in the future is the idea that Islam, or any new experience or idea or faith, is like a pizza. When the delivery person comes to your door, you accept the entire pizza, even if you are only going to consume a slice or two right away. In this sense, Islam is the pizza – it is impossible to know all that it contains or means immediately or to eat it all in one sitting, but the faith should be accepted as a whole and studied and learned/understood over a lifetime. Which I intend to continue doing. I have contemplated making my Ramadan experience an annual event, and will continue to think on that as time passes, but I would like comments on that notion. Would making it a yearly thing eventually become offensive – would it become the play acting that I have been accused of? Does it matter, at that point, what my intentions are, or would outward appearance be more important? Obviously, I have not settled on an answer yet, which is why I would appreciate input.

As previously mentioned, I will continue to maintain this space as I keep reading and learning and reflecting. Thank you to all who joined me, directly or vicariously, on my journey, and I hope you enjoyed it, although it would be impossible to enjoy it nearly as much as I did!